Blog : Posts tagged with 'ghost story'

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Fourth Series

In which FP rants about Being Human’s writers not being able to coherently plot from series to series


This blog still gets quite a lot of hits from people searching for the locations used in the BBC supernatural drama series Being Human, particularly the house used in the first couple of series. Now, I wrote quite a bit about those two series on here, partly because at the time we lived in South Bristol, the series was filmed largely in South Bristol, and it was quite an enjoyable thing to watch. The last time I wrote about it, though, was to (successfully) predict one of the plot-lines of Series Three; however, when that series made it onto the screen ,I hardly wrote about it at all. I hardly wrote about it because, to be honest, I didn’t think it was very good.

Now, with at least two major characters killed off* at the end of Series Three, you might have wondered whether it was coming back. Google says that Series Four was announced back in March, but I have to say I didn’t notice. I did notice, however, more of those little pink filming location signs which used to pop up all over Bristol. Not by the Black Castle this time, so no more “Box Tunnel” plotline. Instead, this year, filming is going on in (drum roll) Newport, South Wales. Newport, the town city so good they called it Newport! Newport, on the beautiful River Usk, where you can get shot while having your hair done before getting your head stuck in a disused train. It’s that good.**

Newport might be awful, depressing and run down, but Cardiff has plenty of areas like that too. So, the next series of Being Human is going to feature: some sort of dramatic, thrilling climax based around the Newport Transporter Bridge. It’s essentially the only unique thing Newport has; and if you’re going to feature it, you may as well be dramatic about it. Well, either that, or the Manic Street Preachers are going to pop up in the background, which is less likely.

Noticing that Being Human is coming back, and writing this post, has made me think about exactly why I don’t think it is any good any more; why I think it shouldn’t come back. The biggest problem I have with it, I think, is that its writers don’t really have any sense of how to expand on their fictional world but still retain believability. Each series might make sense on its own, but the three series that have been produced so far, put back to back, make no sense at all as a single work: each new series has introduced new elements which completely break the world already established.

If you’ve watched it, you might be wondering what I’m talking about here. So, I’ll elaborate. Stop reading now if you have never seen the programme but might want to watch it in the future.

Series one: we have Emotionally-Tortured Pre-Raphaelite Vampire, trying hard to give up on the whole “killing people” thing; and Evil Villain Vampire, who is going to take over the world and doesn’t see any place for brooding emotional types who think they can live alongside humans in his worldview. Evil Villain Vampire is working in the police, so he can keep vampires under-cover and make sure their crimes don’t get exposed. E-T P-R V learns to rely on his friends, who defeat Mr. Evil Villain – in the workplace, note – and forestall the great vampire takeover. Sorted.

Series two: E-T P-R V and friends are fighting against some religious “scientists” who are trying to cure evil, and exterminate it if curing it doesn’t work. Our vampire protagonist is still being broody because he’s having trouble with the whole not-killing-people thing again. So, introduce Morally-Uplifted Mentor Vampire, who gave up blood-quaffing as a dead loss some centuries back, and who, way back before the start of Series One, taught Mr E-T P-R Vampire how to not kill people to begin with.

Now, this plotline might all make sense if M-U M Vampire (ooh, an apt acronym) lived somewhere exotic, somewhere difficult for a Totterdown resident to get to.*** Or, alternatively, if he’d**** been off on holiday somewhere, out of contact, for the whole of Series One. Touring the Amazon, perhaps, or spending three years trainspotting in Iceland. The only sensible explanation, indeed, is that that was indeed the case and it just isn’t mentioned: because it turns out that M-U M Vampire lives in a very nice house, literally a stone’s throw from E-T P-R Vampire’s workplace – where, remember, the Final Denoument took place in the previous series. Literally a stone’s throw. Not only did Evil Villain Vampire not notice, in the previous series, that an active let’s-not-kill-people mentor character was living two minute’s walk away, but E-T P-R Vampire could have popped round for some advice and a cup of tea in his afternoon break, and still got back to work before anybody noticed.

Series Three: the religious chaps have been defeated, the Core Team have moved to Wales, and the Evil Villain Vampire might not have been defeated quite so thoroughly as we all thought. But, what’s this? There are some other vampires! Who may or may not exist, of course. They might be somewhere in the depths of the Amazon, or they might be deeply under-cover in a second police team devoted to making sure vampire killings don’t get exposed. However, all the vampires are well-aware that these Old Vampires may exist, or may be just a myth that vampires pass down from generation to generation. All the vampires are well aware of the myth, even though it was never previously mentioned. In Series One, Evil Villain Vampire was planning to take over the world, was planning to become Vampire King Of The World, indeed, and nobody seemed concerned that there may, just may, be some possibly-mythical Old Vampires who might still be around and might disagree. In Series Three, it turns out, they were working in the same business as Evil Villain Vampire all along! But didn’t think it worth doing a thing about him, didn’t bother stepping in – although we’re presumably meant to assume that they would have stopped things going too far.

Basically, my point is that: Being Human hasn’t been thought through. It’s been planned one series at a time, and each time a series is made, the previous one isn’t even thought of. No doubt Series Four will introduce some other new characters: maybe a Great Pack of werewolves convinced that werewolves are going to take over the world, which everyone has heard of before and cunningly forgotten to mention. Or maybe the Old Vampires are going to turn out to include the team’s landlord from Series One, who hasn’t been seen for a while. Either way, something new will no doubt come in, and if the previous series are anything to go by, it will be something which would have made a vital difference to everything that has gone before, if we had actually known about it.

I will stop ranting, now. There are ways to do this sort of thing properly, but Being Human is probably beyond recovery. The annoying thing is, it would have been much better if someone had sat down, right at the start, and said: if we do get more than one series, what way will we go? And what do we have to do now, to make sure we can?

* Given that several characters are either dead or undead, and one has been “killed off for good” once before only to return when the writers ran short of plot, this is possibly not a useful measure of whether or not it will return.

** It’s hard for me to describe what an awful place Newport is, seriously, without you thinking I’m exaggerating for comic effect. Doctors in Newport have been known to use “move well away from Newport” as a treatment for clinical depression. Visiting Newport (in the 2010s) is like visiting a small town in northern England (in 1985).

*** Kingswood, maybe.

**** There’s an essay in the implicit and deep-rooted sexism that shows itself in the writing of the female vampires in Being Human, but this is probably not the place for it, and I am not the person to write it. It is, however, no doubt closely related to the vampire-as-sexual-predator archetype. Here, at least, note that only the male vampires are given any chance of redemption other than death; and that the mentor who demonstrates this the most is gay.

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Vampire-Spotting

In which we suspect that some TV cameras might be taking the train


Regular readers over the past couple of years might have noticed that I quite enjoy spotting the filming locations of the paranormal TV drama* Being Human, filmed in a variety of easily-recognisable Bristol locations: Totterdown, Bedminster, Clifton, St George, College Green, and so on. Not for much longer, though, we thought: although the first two series were Bristol-based, the third series is apparently being moved over to Cardiff. Whether it will be the recognisable Cardiff Cardiff of Torchwood, or the generic anycity of Doctor Who, remains to be seen; but this was all clearly set up when, at the end of Series Two, the protagonists were forced to flee the house on the corner of Henry St and Windsor Terrace for an anonymous rural hideout. No more Bristol locations for us to spot, we thought.

Over the past week, we’ve been doing a lot of driving about moving house; we now know every intimate corner of every sensible route from south Bristol to east Bristol, or at least it feels like we do. So we were slightly surprised to see that, about a week ago, some more of these pink signs have popped up. “BH LOC” and “BH BASE”, as before.

We spotted them on Albert Road, near the Black Castle. “BH BASE” points along Bath Road, towards the Paintworks and the ITV studios. “BH LOC”, though, is intriguing. It points down the very last turning off Albert Road before the Black Castle end. That entrance only goes to two places: a KFC branch, and St Philips Marsh railway depot.

If you watched the second series of Being Human, you might remember that there was, indeed, a rather brutal train-based scene in a First Great Western carriage.** So, expect the third series to include, at the very least, an extension of that scene, if not a spin-off plotline. Or, alternatively, those signs aren’t really anything to do with Being Human at all, and it’s just coincidence that they pop up around Bristol a few months before each series appears on the telly.*** My money’s on that train from Series Two being the root of part of the Series Three plot; but, I guess, we’ll just have to wait, watch and see.

* Well, it started off as a comedy, and got more serious as it went along

** I was impressed that the programme’s fidelity-to-location included shooting that scene in a genuine local train, rather than just finding any railway prepared to get a carriage soaked with fake blood. Of course, it was probably a convenient location too.

*** The third possibility, of course, is that someone in Series Three tries to cure vampires and werewolves of their respective curses by getting them to eat large amounts of fried chicken.

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Twenty percent of evil

In which we discuss The Turn Of The Screw Coupling


It being Christmastime, there’s nothing quite like a ghost story. Was it Dickens who started the Christmas ghost story tradition, or is it more down to BBC schedulers of the 1970s? Never mind. It being Christmastime, we sat down in front of the telly to watch the latest BBC version of The Turn Of The Screw, by Henry James. It seems like only the other day that it was last made for the TV; but here it is again.

I should admit, I’m not particularly a fan of The Turn Of The Screw, the book, thinking it rather dense and over-written, too wordy to be frightening or atmospheric. Partly this might be because I first read it in a less-than-ideal place: while working in a call centre, between calls. Being interrupted every few minutes by the phone chiming puts a slightly different perspective on your comprehension of mysterious horror and pernicious evil. The book itself begins with a properly seasonal framing story, which the new version ignored entirely, ripping the meat of the story out and sandwiching it within an entirely different framing story set some decades later. It’s now a 1920s tale told to some kind of doctor or detective by some sort of inmate – the narrator of the story proper.

I’m not going to delve into the whole thing; a summary is that the governess of two children becomes convinced that two evil ghosts are trying to attract her wards into their own world. These ghosts were evil when they were alive, we are told, are trying to cast the children into their moulds, and seem to be succeeding: one of the children has just been expelled from school for being unspeakably naughty. But while the governess starts to see the ghosts more and more frequently, and is convinced the children can see them too, noone else in the household thinks that anything at all is amiss. Thousands upon thousands of essays, papers and texts have been devoted to the question of: are we meant to think the ghosts are real, or meant to think they are in the narrator’s imagination. Whole critical careers have been staked on one side or the other of this argument.

For TV, though, subtlety is abandoned. The camera shows us: the children, possibly more of the household staff, know that the ghosts are there and have some idea what they are up to. The nature of Ghost One, Peter Quint’s evil, too, is much more explicit: he’s a Bad Man who has his wicked way with all the ladies. Because that’s often not thought so much of a Bad Thing these days, he’s violent to them too. The nature of the boy Miles’s evil is still left vague and mysterious. Peter Quint is trying to bring him up in Peter Quint’s image, so presumably he’s turning violent and misogynistic; but why would that get him expelled from a 1920s public school?* There’s not really a clear answer to that one, which is presumably why the film-makers left it still unexplained. It’s about the only thing that was.

Now, book and film/TV are different media, and it’s unfair to gripe purely about the fact that they are different media. Adaptations can’t be made unchanged, otherwise we’d hardly need the term “adaptation”. Anachronism, though, gets on my nerves a little bit. There were a couple of scenes in which the governess arrived or departed at their local railway station; I’m fairly sure it was filmed at the very scenic Cranmore station, on the East Somerset Railway, not too far from here.** This is the 1920s, so we should have a 1920s train turn up; at Cranmore, of course, that would be a GWR country branch train in the appropriate GWR dark maroon carriage livery.**** What train does the governess step out of? A 1950s British Rail carriage in 1950s chocolate-and-cream. It’s hardly very suitable; it’s just as anachronistic as a big diesel like this would have been. Or, indeed, as if Peter Quint had worn a James Dean jacket and shades. What’s the point of period drama if you don’t bother with a period set?

* we can presume, from his angelic tousled face, that he’s as yet too young to impregnate his house’s maid, which would be a very Peter-Quintish thing to do.

** At the Shepton Mallet end of Cranmore’s platform there’s an incomplete GWR “cash-register” signal, being slowly-but-carefully restored by the East Somerset Railway’s small signal-restoring team. You can see a picture of part of it here; it’s called a cash-register signal because, at the pull of a lever, a choice of signs will pop up from the black box. I’m fairly sure I noticed it pop up*** in the background of the station platform shots in The Turn Of The Screw, along with some platform buildings that looked rather Cranmoreish.

*** The signal itself, not the signs. Like I said, it’s not finished.

**** I forget the term for the colour; but then, most GWR fans tend to forget about it too.

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Afterlife

In which we consider how “Being Human” ended.


Given the amount of space I’ve used to talk about Totterdown-set* BBC3 series Being Human on here, it’s about time I mentioned the series finale – it was a fortnight ago now, after all. Before the finale had been shown, we already knew that Series Two had been commissioned, which, I have to say, took away some of the suspense. It was possible that the writer would follow through the compulsary penultimate-episode cliffhanger by “killing off”** the main characters; but it wasn’t likely. It was also very likely that we’d lose some of the other characters; and, indeed, it happened.

The setup for the next series is already well in place, with at least three storylines there to take up, all fairly well-divorced from the series one plot. How much reference will be made to the first series, I don’t know. From a new-viewers point of view, three new-starting plot strands make sense; but from a writing point of view, it seems unrealistic. Given the end of the finale episode, I’d have thought that there shouldn’t be much of a gap in the series timeline between series; so how realistic will it be for the previous events to be barely mentioned?

Overall, the series was pretty damn entertaining, even though the finale itself wasn’t particularly exciting. This is the problem with the “compulsary cliffhanger” structure mentioned above: if the writer isn’t careful, the penultimate episode can end up much more action-filled and suspenseful than the final episode itself. Recent series of Doctor Who have tended to suffer from the same problem: the finale has trouble living up to the build-up in the previous episode. It left me thinking: “but why didn’t they just do that at the start?” To be honest, we were mostly watching it for the locations; and we’ll probably still watch the next series. Marks out of ten: ooh, I don’t know. Maybe a seven.

* for all those people searching: the shared house’s address is 1, Windsor Terrace; the hospital is Bristol General, by Bathurst Basin; and the undertakers are Up North, in Clifton.

** After all, they were all either dead or undead already.

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Haunting

In which we ponder some Being Human world-building issues


Some more notes on Being Human, which continues on the telly for the next few weeks.

There’s something about the show’s universe which has been bothering me slightly. That is: what happens when a ghost, who is invisible to the vanilla world, picks something up? Does it hover in midair? Does it vanish until the ghost drops it? Neither answer seems satisfactory, particularly when a ghost is moving things just out of a human character’s peripheral vision. It seems implausible* for people to see, for example, a casserole dish floating down the street; but what happens when Annie The Ghost then goes and opens the oven door?

Secondly: I’m presuming that we’re going to find out, later in the series, that there is another way to “kill” a ghost. Because, otherwise, everything would be rather unbalanced, and the vampires wouldn’t be quite so cocky. If a ghost can pick up a casserole, it can pick up a stake or a chainsaw. And I’m wondering if Pizza Guy from episode one is going to eventually be a major plot point, given that presumably he’s not human.

Location notes: the hotel in episode three was the Redcliff Hill branch of Hotel Mercure,** and the interiors looked to have been shot on location too. The “crime scene” in episode two, found by Annie chasing an ambulance, was in Warden Road, Bedminster, just off East St.

* Yes, using the word “implausible” when writing about something involving vampires and werewolves does seem slightly silly

** I know there probably isn’t a reason for this, but never mind. Why why why: Redcliff Hill and Redcliff St, but Redcliffe Way and Redcliffe Parade?

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Being Humane

In which we watched Being Human


After the post last week, I felt we really should watch Being Human, the new BBC3 series set largely in Totterdown. We were, I have to say, pleasantly surprised.

I’m not going to summarise the plot here, other than: it’s a fantasy version of the classic sitcom plot. Three oddball characters who are stuck with each other – a vampire and a werewolf who are trying to appear human, who have managed to rent a haunted house.* If it is a sitcom, though, it’s the sort I’d like to write myself: the sort without very many jokes in.**

Some things were a little overused – the heavy heartbeat when Mitchell The Vampire’s blood-lust attacks came on; and the post-production effect used to make skies look darker and more interesting. Some of the mechanics of the worldbuilding don’t quite make sense, either.*** But, overall, the series was remarkably subtle and realistic. For something involving almost-immortal beasts, of course. Moreover, unlike the trailer, the characters, not the backdrop, were its main focus. It might have obviously-recognisable locations – the Totterdown house, the General Hospital, St Nick’s Market**** – and it might have bit-part actors with local accents; but so far, it could have been set anywhere. It didn’t rely on the location for anything.

I can guess how the series is going to go from here. The real test, I suppose, comes with: just how well the minor characters are treated. Will Herrick, or Lauren, become just as full a character as Mitchell? What about Annie’s fiance?***** We’ll watch it, because we’ll be intrigued to find out. And, of course, just in case, we spot anyone we know lurking in the background of a shot.

* A former grocery store on the corner of Windsor Terrace. It has pub-type glass in the front window, but as far as I can find out it was never actually a pub.

** This is a good thing; and we’re lucky that Being Human was made by the BBC’s Cardiff drama section, and not by the people responsible for the awful laugh-tracked sitcoms that pass for entertainment on BBC3.

*** Actually, Vampire Civil Wars are an interesting argument to overcome the usual objection to vampires: if they’re immortal, and all their victims became vampires, then why didn’t we get to an I Am Legend-type situation about three weeks after they first evolved? Not being up on vampire-based literature, I don’t know if anyone else has ever covered it. They must have, at some point.

**** We did both shout out “Pie shop!” when George The Werewolf ran through the market and past the Pieminister stall

***** It confirms something I’ve thought for a long time, incidentally: ghost stories really can be the saddest stories in the world.

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Fiction, this time

In which we plan a story


Talking of ghost stories, I dreamed an interesting one a few nights ago. I liked it so much, in fact, that I rather fancy working it up into a proper story.

No doubt the plot is one that’s been covered many times before; but there aren’t really very many ghost-story plots that haven’t been well worked-over. The way it came out in my dream – which was of someone telling the story, rather than of the story itself – it was a version of one of the most frequently-used plots of all, the Disappearing Fellow-Traveller.* However, it was, well, rather inverted. I don’t want to say any more, because I don’t want to spoil it for you if I ever do manage to finish it.

* At least one classic story of the Disappearing Fellow-Traveller genre made it, in a retold version, into an anthology of supposedly true ghost stories. I can’t remember many details at all about it; but it concerned someone who got chatting to a fellow-traveller in a railway carriage, and found that the stranger was a friend of the people the traveller was going to visit. On mentioning him at the destination, of course, he turned out to have died some time earlier. I really should work this up and look up the names of the writers and books involved. I’ve got a feeling the “true” book was Railway Ghosts And Phantoms by W B Herbert, but I’m not at all sure.

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Ghost story non-update

In which we try to double-check a psychic’s work


If you’re not just a regular reader, but the sort of regular reader who reads all the comments too, then you’ll have noticed that Colleague M dropped by the site the other day to let me know that her sister Lydia* had been asking for its address. “I think she’ll be upset,” said M, though, “to find you haven’t written about her for some time.”

Well, I originally wrote about Lydia because of her haunting problems, and as they seem to have gone away recently, I haven’t written about them for a month or so. I forgot to mention, though, that I did have a Plan.

As I’ve mentioned before, The Mother has been heavily into genealogy recently, and as part of that she has subscriptions to all sorts of websites, including ones which let you search 19th-century census data. Lydia’s friendly psychic investigator had told her that her ghosts were from the 19th century.** Furthermore, she’d also told Lydia their first names. So, my cunning plan was: get The Mother to look up who actually lived in Lydia’s house back then, to see if we had a match. If not, well, censuses are only held once per decade, so it doesn’t necessarily mean the psychic was wrong; but if we did have a match then that would be very impressive.

Unfortunately, the plan fell through, when Mother found that back in those days, the houses in Lydia’s street weren’t actually numbered. Bugger. Given that I only had a couple of first names to go on, she didn’t really fancy trawling through census returns for the whole street. After all, it’s a fairly long street. And, if we did find a match, it wouldn’t really be particularly good evidence anyway, given that we couldn’t firmly link them to Lydia’s house. All-in-all, I was a bit disappointed, which is why I haven’t mentioned it earlier. But I thought I would. Just in case you’re reading, Lydia.

* not actually her real name, incidentally.

** they couldn’t really be any older if they’d actually lived in her Victorian-built house

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If I told you what you were thinking, would you believe me?

In which FP considers being evil


The other day, Tim Boucher linked to Colleague M’s ghost story, in which M’s sister Lydia had a bit of trouble with a pair of argumentative ghosts apparently haunting her house. When I first heard about the ghosts, I was hoping I’d be able to post regular updates on the story; but there don’t seem to have been any updates recently. I asked M if anything had happened, and was told that everything has settled down quietly again. No more ghostly voices on the phone, no more things going missing, no more possibly-possessed cats. So, Lydia is able to sleep at night again.

It did get me thinking, though. There’s something I’m tempted to try, but it would be rather evil. I want to try to be a psychic myself.

Not a real one, you understand. However, it should be very easy to pretend to be one, if I want. I’ve still not met Lydia herself, but I do know rather a lot about her, and her family, from M. Secondly, Lydia’s job includes shifts on an enquiry-desk type of place. In other words, it’s easy to get to talk to her – all you have to do is think of a question. All I would then have to do is start telling her the things my intuition was telling me. “You seem to be a mother – I can see a lot of love in your household – but there’s a lot of strain too. Are you a single mother?” And all that sort of thing. The question is: how far would I be able to push this before she starts smelling something fishy? How much would I have to prove I know about her? Or would she just assume I could genuinely sense things about her?

Should I try this? Or would it just be too evil of me?

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Ghost story (again)

In which the story continues…


Colleague M has passed on the latest news on her sister Lydia’s ghosts. The start of the story is here.

Lydia was still worried about the argumentative ghosts that are haunting her house, according to the psychic she brought in last week. She was settling down, though, and her sleep was getting easier again. Until the other night, that is.

Her daughter – who hasn’t been told about the possible ghosts – had gone away for a couple of days to visit her grandparents, and was phoning home before bedtime. They were chatting away as normal, when the daughter said:

“Who’s that talking with you?”

Lydia had the telly on; she turned the sound off. “There’s noone here,” she said, “it must have been the TV. Can you still hear them?”

“I can still hear them, Mummy,” she said.

Lydia looked around: she definitely couldn’t hear anything herself. “What do they sound like?”

“It sounds like a man and a woman, arguing.”

So now, of course, Lydia is terrified again.

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